The auditorium at the Hebrew Educational Society was jam-packed for the January 31st meeting of the 69th Precinct Community Council. Residents came to hear several distinguished guests, including NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and Patrol Borough Brooklyn South Chief Charles McEvoy.
When Council President Gardy Brazela introduced NYPD Commissioner Sewell as NYC’s first female commissioner, there was loud applause from the audience.
Sewell, who has held the position for one year, lauded some of the successes in the 69th Precinct – shootings and homicides that have gone down – but also said, “It’s not enough. We need an overall feeling of safety in this community. I need you to tell me what I can do better.”
DA Gonzalez said that crime was moving in the right direction since 2014 when he served as chief assistant under Ken Thompson, but in 2020, there was a tremendous surge in crime across the city. “Brooklyn was not spared; crime was up tremendously across the board, including nationwide.”
“In the 69th Precinct, we have seen a real decline – a 50% decline in most violent crimes, so things are moving in a good direction,” he said, stating that his office is working on the most violent crimes and talking about solutions to divert crime further.
He spoke about changes in the DA’s office, which previously only had two divisions: a Trial Division and an Investigations Division. He announced that in December a Special Victims Unit was added, which will deal with sex crimes and gender-based domestic violence. The bureau is the first of its kind in the country, and 20% of the DA’s office will dedicate their time on these crimes.
“The new unit is an important piece in securing our safety in our homes and community. When we see family and/or domestic violence in the home, children in those families are more likely to pick up a gun and more likely to be involved in shootings, gang violence, drug addiction and depression,” Gonzalez said.
The DA’s office is also working on ghost guns, ghost license plates and an ongoing problem in Brooklyn – extreme traffic violence.
He said that they are breaking ground on a state-of-the-art Family Justice Center in March and hopes the brand-new center in Downtown Brooklyn will be completed by the end of the year.
Attendees asked about programs available to reach youth before they become gang members and criminals.
The DA said that his office approaches the issue in two ways. They work with the “criminally-justice involved” – those who have been already arrested – and, there are different programs with the courts and community-based organizations to “kind of scare them back in the right direction.”
He admitted that we need to prevent young people from entering the criminal legal system in the first place and said he believes in second chances. “We need to get them the help they need, so it does not lead to recidivism.”
The DA’s office does a number of sporting and community-based events, like the Aspen Challenge and Saturday Night Lights, and has a SAT program and internships for junior high, high school and college students.
“The problem is that the kids who are out in the streets, unsupervised, never get to those voluntary programs. They only get to me when there is an arrest,” Gonzalez said. “It’s the parents/guardian who are engaged that access these programs. We need to identify some of those young people so we can get them into programs before they get arrested.”
Under the Raise the Age legislation, cases involving non-violent felonies, committed by those under the age of 18, now go to Family Court. “I support Raise the Age, but things need to be corrected and fixed to make sure we are protecting our community,” Gonzalez said. “We need to discuss how we balance treating our kids like kids and giving them second chances, but also make sure that they are not hurting other children and people.”
Sewell agreed that there are some challenges to Raise the Age. “I don’t think anybody in this room wants a young person to be penalized for the rest of their lives for a mistake that they made as a child or as a young adult or teen.” She said teen violence numbers in 2022 and the beginning of 2023 were “concerning.”
“When Raise the Age was signed in 2017 and went in effect in 2019, we have steadily seen an increase in both the number of teenagers that are the shooters and the number of teenagers that are being shot as well.”
She spoke about successful outreach programs, such as the Explorers and Saturday Night Lights, which is expanding, and the Options program, which is a virtual reality tool that helps our young people with decision-making, de-escalation and conflict resolution.
“There are reasons why people join gangs – a sense of family, belonging and protection – but we have to break that connection ourselves because what are we not doing that we could do better to slow the off-ramps to criminality?” Sewell said.
“We have to be able to break the cycle for kids joining gangs. We have to make our children understand that it is not acceptable to pick up a firearm. We have adults giving them firearms because of Raise the Age, because they don’t face the same circumstances as an adult.”
Another resident asked, “What can be done to keep criminals from being back on the street before the officer is finished with his paperwork?” Sewell admitted that while criminal justice reforms were well-meaning, chronic recidivism across the city is a real problem.
“We are arresting the same people over and over again for the same crimes because of well-intentioned reforms to be able to address certain disparities, but I think the pendulum has swung in a direction that we need to move it back.”
“We have to make sure there are consequences for their behavior. We cannot have people who continue to victimize people and businesses walking the street before the officer finishes their tour.”
Theft affects businesses, and Sewell said the result will be that businesses will leave communities as they cannot sustain their losses. “Customers should not have to wait to get their things out of a locked cabinet because people continue to steal the same thing.”
Sewell said she will continue to advocate for change and appreciates the support of everyone who advocates with them.
The 69th Precinct Community Council presented awards to Commissioner Sewell and DA Gonzalez for their outstanding work and dedication to keeping Brooklyn safe.